Keepin' warm, keepin' wonderful

Well, tomorrow is the last day of my year of No New Nothing. With less than a week left, I jumped the gun this past weekend by buying a hat and pair of gloves. I had been trying to make it through this winter without hat or gloves, since I had lost the pair of gloves I bought last year and couldn’t find my only hat (a bright red Arsenal football cap I bought on a trip to London when I was about 16). Then on Saturday, my visiting parents and I went out to Kent to see Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s country home, and I was frankly freezing. I saw a cute pair of Fair Isle wool gloves with matching cap in the National Trust gift shop at Chartwell and went for them. At least, they weren’t more than £20 and the money supports the National Trust, a charity close to my own heart because it is dedicated to environmental and heritage conservation. They also have a bit of blue in them that matches my light blue winter coat.

My new hat and gloves brightening up a grey London day

When you don’t buy yourself many things, you get weirdly excited about stuff like a pretty cheap new hat and gloves. I’ve been so thrilled about them all week — wearing them every day, even when it hasn’t been that cold that I really needed them, and showing them off to everyone. I can’t imagine having been so delighted by them a year ago — they would have been just more things, bought without thinking about them much, just more stuff added to my pile of stuff. It’s amazing how much more you appreciate stuff, how much more joy you get out of each individual thing, when you’re more mindful about your interaction with the things you buy and limit yourself to the things you really want or need. Appreciation — I guess that’s one of the things I’ve learned to be better about this year.

Buying a winter hat — and seeing the joy that such a small, cheap thing gave me — brought me back to thinking about one of the events that set off my decision to do No New Nothing for a year: when our neighbor freaked out because Hettie (my dog), who was then a puppy, stealing her expensive designer ear muffs she had left lying on a bench in the garden and demanded I pay for new ones. It’s so easy to get caught up in the newness or expensiveness or status-symbolism of the things we buy that we lose sight of whether and how they serve us; it’s much easier to be thankful for the simple things that serve us when we aren’t drowning in stuff. I’m not sure how well the ear muffs were serving that women since they seemed to be an effort to feed her status-conscious ego more than anything else — she wasn’t even wearing them because it wasn’t very cold, and clearly they weren’t bringing her joy because she had a sour disposition even before Hettie stole them. They were just one more among the many designer things she was carrying around with her in the garden — things that she seemed to be emptily piling on without thought. The pure joy Hettie got from running around the garden with the little pink balls of fluff probably made the ear muffs worth more than any enjoyment that woman got out of them. We pay so much for stuff that brings us nothing, and yet for much less we can find wonderful joy in simpler things. Running around this week in my hat and gloves, I’ve felt a little bit like Hettie, and I think the only ‘things’ I need in my life are things that I can appreciate in that way.

An Imperfect Race to the Finish

Yesterday I got back from an incredible (though too short!) trip to Egypt! As some of you might know, Egypt is my favorite place in the world, and rather unbelievably it had been eleven years since I was last there. Needless to say, I was rather excited in the run up to this trip! As I started getting ready and packing, I realized that I had little in the way of appropriate clothing (i.e., lightweight for really hot weather but full coverage both for protection against the sun and not looking too out of place). I guess it must have been something do with almost six years of living in London where the weather is about as opposite from Egyptian weather as it can get (I seem to own only sweaters!). I found that I had a couple of lightweight, long-sleeved shirts I’d bought to wear on my honeymoon in Tanzania five years ago, but they were looking pretty awful and ratty. So what to do?

I broke down and went shopping. I got myself a few long-sleeved but lightweight shirts, a maxi dress with long sleeves and a pair of lightweight jeans. To be honest, I felt pretty guilty about it. I probably could have cobbled together sufficiently appropriate stuff to wear without going shopping, so it didn’t feel 100% necessary. That said, I probably would have felt uncomfortable and/or embarrassed in most of the stuff I could have worn because it would have been too hot or I would have been self conscious about the terrible sweat stains under the armpits of most of my pre-existing long-sleeved and lightweight shirts. I’m not sure which would have been worse: breaking my no new nothing so thoroughly or the embarrassment/discomfort I would have felt wearing what I already owned. In hindsight, I suspect that the embarrassment would have been mostly in my head and that no one else would have noticed. But so it goes.

At least, in shopping for new stuff, I did try to follow some guidelines that make for better buying. I bought only stuff that I would wear regularly — i.e., in hot or cold weather, all-season appropriate etc. It was all stuff I knew I would be happy to wear daily in London. I also tried not to spend too much, while buying stuff that was good quality material and construction and would last. I didn’t want to buy anything that would fall apart after a couple wears. I managed to find nice pair of JOSEPH jeans on sale at TK Maxx (UK equivalent of TJ Maxx) for less than 1/4 of the original price, a couple of shirts at Marks & Spencer for less than £30 each that were Tencel or similar materials that are more sustainable than regular cotton ( i.e, require less energy and water to produce and have lower chemical release) and last longer, and a dress from Sezane (a brand that, while not fully sustainable, has committed to transitioning to more sustainable production).

New jeans and shirt at the pyramid of Unas, Saqqara
Another new shirt, with my girl Meritamen at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo
New dress at the mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo

A Purchase Made In Haste

Last week a miracle happened. Despite missing my flight last Tuesday because I had forgotten my passport, I somehow managed to land in Austin, Texas, only a few hours later than planned and still make it on time for dinner with friends that evening. When I had arrived at Heathrow airport earlier that day and realized that I didn’t have my passport , I had doubted whether I’d be making it to Austin in time for the wedding we were going to last weekend, much less for our dinner that night. So I was amazed that I landed in time to go straight from the airport to dinner.

The only problem was that I was in dingy sweat pants with holes, and from what I had seen online, the restaurant looked nice. My husband had gone ahead on our planned flight to Austin with both of our bags, and I wasn’t able to get in touch with him in time to get him to find me a change of clothes from my bag. So I was left with a choice: show up at the restaurant looking like a bum or break my rule and buy something new during my layover at Houston airport that I could wear to dinner. I decided that I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy something but that, if there was a clothes store on the way between my arrival and departure gates and if that store had something I would definitely wear often in the future, then I would get something new.

As fate would have it, I got off my plane from London and saw a Brooks Brothers straight ahead. Right at the front of the shop was a red and black striped no-iron shirt dress that was exactly the kind of comfortable, casual but not too casual, dress that both would be appropriate for dinner and that I expected I would wear often. They only had two sizes left of it, and one of those sizes was mine. So I bought it.

Arriving at the restaurant in my new dress, I realized that Austin is a lot more casual than London and that I probably could have gotten away with wearing my sweatpants without any dirty looks. Also, even if I had gotten any dirty looks, why should I have cared? Except our friends, who would have understood the situation because they knew about my passport drama, I was never going to see anyone in that restaurant again. It’s amazing how even after a year of trying to break my old ways of thinking about clothes I still worry so much about what other people will think about what I wear.

At the same time, it was freeing to realize after the fact that I had bought the dress because I liked it and it looked comfortable even though I had no idea whether it was stylish or ‘in’ this year/season/whatever fashion cycle we’re on. I obviously see what people are wearing on the street, but because I don’t look in stores or at shopping websites anymore (or even the ads the shopping websites send by email) I don’t really know what current trends are. It’s incredibly freeing not to know, not to feel pressure to wear things you wouldn’t otherwise really want to wear. I hope that, even if I do start buying new stuff again after this year ends, I can manage to avoid knowing what’s ‘in’.

Already wearing my new dress again today! (Please excuse the sleepy jet-lagged face! And so happy I didn’t have to iron it even though it had been awkwardly folded and squashed in my suitcase.

Of Lotus Pose and Louboutins

“She talked too much! I wanted to be like, ‘Oh my God, shut up!'”

I overheard a woman say this yesterday about the substitute teacher who had just led our yoga class. I found it funny since I had only attended the class because that particular instructor was teaching it and I love how much she talks. And by “talks” I mean she explains the philosophy behind the sequence she has chosen for that day’s class and guides the class through breath work and visualizations to help get the most physically and mentally out of each pose. I suspect the woman I overheard, who was very fit and in head-to-toe Lululemon, was complaining about the ‘talking’ because she had been there just for the calorie-out and abs-toned exercise.

I can sympathize with that approach to yoga since I too used to think of yoga as just another way to move my external appearance closer to the ideal of what some elusive “they” said I should try to look like. There was a time when I too would have wanted the instructor to cut the crap and get on with the workout. I’m not sure when it was I actually started listening to the ‘talk’ from instructors like the one yesterday, but at some point I discovered that the external-only ‘workout’ approach to yoga didn’t get me very far. A physical-fitness driven practice of yoga is fine if it works for you, but for me it led to more self-frustration than self-realization. Approached that way, I found my brain growing frustrated and fighting with my body about what it was supposed to do and how it was supposed to look. It was only when I stopped treating yoga as a way to change the way I physically appeared to the world and started treating it as an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate my internal and external self and their connection to the world beyond me that I was able to achieve any of the more difficult poses—including poses which I noticed the complaining woman yesterday could not do despite appearing much physically ‘fitter’ than me. Yoga started working for me, and I started enjoying it, when it became an opportunity to trust my body instead of hating on it and telling it to change. For me, that required listening to the philosophical and meditative ‘talk’ about the mind, and not just shutting it out while I tried to sweat as much as I could.

So what does any of my yoga self-realization nonsense have to do with No New Nothing? Well, both are about mindfulness: mindfulness of the meaning and happiness that we are actually giving and getting out of our time in the world. My initial ‘get fit’ approach to yoga was so focused on trying to look a certain way to impress other people that I missed the opportunity to learn about and appreciate my whole internal and external self. Similarly, the obsession with having clothes and things that will impress others and raise our status in their eyes can obscure thinking about the impact of those things on our world and whether we actually enjoy those things ourselves. One clear example of this that I’ve talked about on this blog recently (and that I won’t go into again here, although las week was London Fashion Week and an opportune time to think about these issues) is our indifference to the impact fashion and the clothing industry have on the environment. It is easy to get so hung up on physical appearances and the fleeting impressions we make, to get hung up on the pursuit of attractiveness and status in the eyes of others, that we forget to ask ourselves why we are here and what it is we want to make of our time in the world.

In short, whether it is yoga or clothes, our societal obsession with appearance and status often leaves us less mindful of whole ourselves and the people and things around us. Maybe we would get more out of our relationship with our ‘stuff’ if we treated it, like yoga, as an opportunity to think beyond short-term physical appearances toward a more meaningful and thankful relationship with the wider world around us.

The Joy of House Listings and Rugs, or webpages I trawl on the Internet when I don’t want to be tempted to buy anything

Sometimes I just need a mindless break. I need something to do that is mildly entertaining or gratifying and requires absolutely zero brain power. Trawling the web usually works, but it can’t be something like reading the news or a blog that actually requires me to think. Scrolling through online clothes and furniture shopping websites used to fit the bill, but I don’t let myself do that these days. It’s too dangerous. I know I might be tempted if I see some purty something on sale for just £29.99. So what to do?

For a while, I tried using Instagram as a replacement, but somehow it required too much thought. I had to think about who people were, what they were doing, and whether I should like, comment or respond. Too much thinking. So what then?

I recently hit on two perfect things. The beauty of them both is that they are shopping websites full of pictures of things that there is no chance in the world I could end up buying through a slip of willpower. That is because they are both things that cost way more than I could afford and that it would literally, physically be impossible for me to have at this time.

So first, house listings. I think it’s pretty common to browse for house sales listings even when you, like me, have no intention of buying a house anytime soon. It’s the perfect mindless thing to do because there are lots of pretty pictures of a multitude of house types to look at on the multi-listing websites, but there is no “Buy Now” button on the page. And it would be pretty hard to end up accidentally meeting a real estate agent for a viewing, putting in an offer and signing a contract, all on a loss of willpower blip. My favorite websites are Zillow for the US and Rightmove and Zoopla for the UK (they also have international listings, so think Tuscany! and chateaux in the French countryside!), but if you are really hardcore like me you can also look at the individual real estate agents’ individual website listings, just to mix things up.

And second, and somewhat less obvious, rugs! Rugs are the best—so many styles, so many patterns, so many colors. My preference is for oriental carpets, but they’re all great. And the best thing about them is that they cost tons of money, and you’re unlikely to have any space for them in your house. There is certainly no place for us to be putting another 6×10-footer in our over-filled flat! My favorite website for carpet browsing is carpetvisa.com, where we bought the one big carpet in our place that now makes it impossible for me to buy another. They have thousands-upon-thousands of rugs on the site, and once on that website, my non-thinking but aesthetic-craving brain could get sucked into the rug vortex for weeks. Just the selection of Tabriz rugs could send my brain on a multi-day trip.

So, if you’re looking for something mindless to do and don’t want to be tempted by the interweb of sales to spend any money, check out the Tabriz carpet I’m currently crushing on here and see where it leads you down the rabbit hole of pretty things to look at that there’s no chance you’ll buy! I mean, there’s almost no way you’d accidentally end up buying a £1,000 rug, amiright? (Although, if you are going to spend £1,000 on a thing, there are few better choices than a high quality wool rug that will last forever. Mine is one of my favorite things I’ve ever bought!)

My current Tabriz carpet crush <3

Second Hand September

It’s hard to believe that September is almost upon us and that, at least here in London, the leaves are already starting to fall! I still associate September with the excitement of back-to-school shopping, even though it has now been more years than I would like to count since the last September in which I was last headed back to school. September’s association with shopping for many of us makes it a great month to think about the impact of clothing and shopping habits, and particularly about the prevalent culture of throwaway fashion. I therefore was delighted to hear that Oxfam is sponsoring Second Hand September, a 30-day no new clothes challenge. I encourage anyone interested to join in Second Hand September. Believe me, if I can manage no new or second hand clothes for nearly ten months now, you can manage no new stuff for a month!

Those interested in participating in Second Hand September can find more information and take the pledge at oxfam.org.uk/secondhand. The pledge is a little less hardcore than my No New Nothing because you can still buy used clothing items from secondhand stores. You can participate without taking the pledge of course, but if you sign up with Oxfam they will send you advice on to help use reuse, rewear and recycle.

I considered but ultimately decided not to allow myself to buy secondhand items as part of my No New Nothing year because, while my own challenge was driven in part by concerns about the environmental impact of my shopping habits, I also wanted to address my own issues with generally having too much stuff. I felt like I needed to be cut off from the temptation to buy stuff just because it was cute or cheap, regardless whether it was new or secondhand. However, I think buying secondhand is a terrific way to address the environmental side of my concerns about our consumer culture. Before doing this year of No New Nothing, I’m not sure I would have considered it feasible to buy only secondhand clothing, but one thing I have learned from this year is how unimportant to my life new clothes actually are. Once I broke the habit of buying and realized that being ‘up to date’ on fashion wasn’t really important or meaningful to my life (or even really something anyone noticed about me), it seems like buying only (or at least mainly) secondhand could be a great way to save money and reduce harmful waste. After my year of No New Nothing ends in November, I plan to start buying mainly secondhand (although I’ll of course continue to buy things like underwear and tennis shoes brand spanking new!).

The Simple Bare Necessities

One of my rules of No New Nothing is that I can replace essential items of clothing that I need to function. When I started out, I thought there would be quite a few of these types of things—you know, the underpants and socks variety—that I would need to replace this year and that I would find myself posting about them regularly. I thought it would be interesting to learn and document exactly what those things were as I went along. The big surprise for me has been how little I have needed to replace. Even my white socks, although looking a little dingy, are nowhere near ready for the graveyard. Maybe in the past I would have chucked them at this stage, but I’ve learned that most of our stuff lasts a lot longer than the life we give it.

That said, I’ve recently ‘had to’ make three purchases under the ‘need to function’ rule. Here’s what they were, and why I decided they qualified.

First, I replaced my sneakers. I could still wear the old ones for walking, but I was starting to feel the impact from the worn treads when I ran and decided to save my feet and knees from unnecessary pain and long-term damage. I guess I don’t strictly ‘need to’ run and could have just stopped running for the rest of the year, but I enjoy running with the dog and count exercise as something I need to function.

Second, I bought a bathing suit while on vacation in Switzerland last week. I hadn’t brought one with me on the trip because I wasn’t expecting to go swimming in the Alps, and I am not even sure that I had one I could have brought. The last time I bought a swimsuit was for my the Zanzibar part of our honeymoon in 2014, and I haven’t seen that one in a long time. Clearly I am not a beach holiday person … Anyways, after we arrived in Switzerland, I discovered that our hotel in Zermatt had an absolutely gorgeous pool overlooking the Matterhorn (and there was a chance we would go to some thermal baths), so I picked up a bathing to be able to partake. Did I really ‘need to’ go swimming? No, definitely not, but I didn’t think I should be prevented from doing what I wanted to do on my holiday because I didn’t have the right attire. I guess I justified this one to myself as being more about having an experience than about having a thing. No New Nothing is in part about not having things just for the sake of having things, but in this case not having the thing would have held me back from having the experience.

Third, I bought some Wickron hiking socks in Zermatt. I absolutely hate the feeling of wool on my feet or having socks touch my ankles, so I am a crazy person who hikes in my regular low-rise sports socks rather than in proper wool socks. Luckily my feet are as tough as they come and rarely blister. However, my usual socks do start to feel thin by the end of a long day, so I decided to try a pair of these synthetic Wickron socks we found in Zermatt the night before our last hike. I had never heard of Wickron before—guess that shows how long it’s been since I’ve even bothered looking at the wool socks section! They worked great, and in any event I would have had to hike in dirty socks without them because I had run out of socks! This was another, if I hadn’t bought them, my experience would have been worse.

My takeaway is that, particularly when it comes to clothes, there are some things we buy in order to enable us to do something and then there are some things we buy just for the sake of having them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some things just for the sake of having them, whether it’s aesthetic enjoyment or what have you, but it’s important to think more about why we buy and have things. I need to remember to ask myself: Is this thing I’m about to buy really going to serve my life positively>

Why can’t we all wear shorts whenever we want?

It’s hot, and I want to wear shorts. Every day. But I only have one pair, and ridiculously they are dry clean only. I wear them for about five days in a row and then send them off for cleaning while I struggle to figure out what to wear every day for a week. It would be really convenient if I could buy a new machine-washable pair! As it is, I struggle to find comfortable, casual summer clothing to wear working from home every day in a room without air conditioning. The problem is that, after five years of my working in the law in an office, all my spring and summer clothes are formalwear.

Why, I must ask myself, do I have all these clothes I don’t want to wear? In my closet, summer-weight suit jackets and brightly colored tailored dresses abound. Sure, theoretically, I could wear them to sit at my home desk and take my dog to the park in the middle of the day, but let’s be real. They may be comfortable as far as formal workwear goes, but they are not comfortable enough to wear at home when I could be wearing shorts.

I’m not wearing my workwear now because it’s not my most comfortable choice. It’s not the clothing most conducive to my comfortably tucking in at my desk and getting stuff done. But this begs the question: If that’s case, why was I ever wearing workwear at all? Why does anyone? Why do we have designated styles and cuts of clothing that we are supposed to wear in specific places or while doing certain things? Why does my wearing an uncomfortable tailored dress signify that I am more serious than my wearing shorts? Or why would my husband’s wearing jeans and sneakers to work mean he was less competent than if he was in tailored trousers and pinching leather shoes? It seems to me that the only reason is that convention says it is so, and we accept it at that, even though requiring people to wear less comfortable clothes in settings where they are more likely to be required to be doing something productive seems entirely counterproductive.

Sure, some offices have gone to “casual Fridays” and “business casual” (whatever that means), but we still have very definite ideas about what clothes we can wear when and where. When I try to look beyond the cliché of looking your best or ‘dressing for success,’ I find it difficult to fathom what reason exists for the persistence of these ideas about appropriate clothing for different settings, for these strictures that have nothing to do with the clothing’s comfort, utility or suitability for the weather.

Even the idea of ‘dressing for success’ seems problematic. We want other people to perceive us as looking good, but what other people perceive as “well dressed” is entirely dependent on the indoctrination of cultural clothing norms. As changes in fashion over the centuries attest (and certain trends like ruff collars popular in the 16th and 17th centuries scream), what we think looks “good” is largely learned not innate. Yes, I think my knee-length, nipped-waist L.K. Bennett work dresses look great, but I have to wonder if that’s only because I have been taught to think it is so. And is it really worth the way they chafe under my arms or make me fear popping a zipper after a big lunch as I struggle to sit upright at my desk without ripping a seam?

I suspect clothing norms won’t change anytime soon, but it’s worth thinking about why we expect people to wear certain things in certain places and whether it makes any sense. At least for now, I’ll be glad I can get away with wearing my shorts.

Some Further Fast Fashion Facts and Unfortunate News

After I published yesterday’s post touching on the environmental impact of clothing waste, it was announced that the UK Government had rejected recommendations to make the fashion industry more eco-friendly and curb the culture of throwaway clothes. The recommendations had been put forward by the UK Parliament’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in its February 2019 report on clothing consumption and sustainability.

The EAC’s report contained some pretty compelling facts about why our clothing culture needs to change. For example:

  • The textile industry contributes more to climate change that international aviation and shipping combined.
  • Shoppers in the UK buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. A glut of their second hand clothes has swamped the market for used textiles.
  • Around 300,000 tons of textile waste is thrown in UK household trash bins every years, thereafter landing up in landfills or incinerators.
  • Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled at the end of its life.
  • Clothing retailers regularly burn new unsold stock to preserve their brand.

The EAC report laments what I too have noticed (and one of the driving forces behind my year of nothing): We have a culture of throwaway clothing in which clothes are made and marketed to be worn one season and thrown away the next. As the EAC says, “Often it is more expensive to repair an item than to buy a new one. Many of us lack the skills to perform more than basic clothing repairs.” With the focus on cheap manufacturing and quick turnover, it is nearly impossible for makers of eco-friendly clothing to compete with producers of ‘fast fashion’. This must change.

The EAC report contained concrete recommendations for holding the fashion industry accountable, but the Government’s response yesterday was essentially that it would not consider the recommendations now but would review and consult on some of them by 2025. The EAC’s recommendations included:

  • Tax incentives to reward fashion companies that design products with low environmental impacts and penalize those that do not. This would be similar to a tax on virgin plastics already scheduled to come into effect in the UK in 2022.
  • A one penny charge per garment on producers in order to raise money (estimated around £35 million per year) to invest in better clothing collection and sorting in the UK. As I noted in my post yesterday, the options for textile recycling in my area of London are currently limited and inconvenient, which makes them unlikely to be used by the majority of clothes buyers.
  • A ban on the incineration or landfilling of unsold clothing stock that can be reused or recycled.
  • A reduction on VAT for repair services to encourage fixing rather than trashing garments.
  • Environmental targets for large retailers. (with over £36 million in turnover).

The EAC also made recommendations to address poor working conditions in the textile industry.

The UK Government claims that it is not rejecting these ideas outright but that it was already looking at ideas to deal with some of these issues. Government ministers reportedly prefer voluntary schemes in which fashion industry participants choose to participate rather than mandatory taxes and bans. For example, the Government said it would encourage the industry to participate in the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (Scap), which is run by a recycling charity, Wrap. However, only 11 retailers have signed up to Scap, and Wrap has lost 80% of its funding since 2010 .

Unfortunately, unless we the consumers put more pressure on retailers and policymakers to make fashion sustainable rather than cheap, it is difficult to see them taking serious action. In a recent Drapers survey of 370 fashion brands, retailers and suppliers, 60% said the main bar to becoming more sustainable was that it drives up costs. 85% said that the government was not doing enough to help the fashion industry become more sustainable. 69% said they supported the 1p garment charge to raise money for textile recycling efforts. But of course industry can’t expect government and taxpayers to do all the work. All of us – consumers, industry and policymakers – need to rethink our clothing culture.

Want to make your engagement with clothing more sustainable? Check out LOVE YOUR CLOTHES here to find some ideas on getting started.

The EAC’s full report, as well as its comment on the Government’s response, can be downloaded here.

The BBC also covers “The story behind your clothes’ here.

Worn down but not out: the ethical dilemma of old but functioning clothes

As I write this I am wearing a pair of Gap trousers that look like they have been through the wash a few too many times. The big philosophical question for today is: When should I throw them out? The problem is that, while I want to look my best, it seems crazy how much we turn perfectly serviceable clothing into planet-trashing waste.

The pair of trousers I am wearing now are borderline acceptable on the appearances scale. They fit and have no holes, but they are one of seven pairs of the same Gap trousers that I have been rotating through almost every day for the past six years and that look heavily “distressed” from the many washings and dryings they have had. Because I work from home where the dog is the only other creature to see my trousers, their roughed-up state doesn’t matter much, and I keep wearing them for now. However, if I still worked in an office where I saw other people (or more precisely where they saw me), I suspect I would be ashamed to wear these trousers every day and would feel obliged to get replace them. Indeed, last year I made my husband replace most of his wardrobe because it was looking over-washed.

Office-going humans like old-me don’t want to wear worn-looking clothing to work for good reasons. Studies seem to confirm what you might guess: our clothing strongly influences other people’s perceptions of us, and even subtle differences in clothing choices can affect people’s judgments about our character, ethics and abilities. Through exposure to societal norms and expectations, we start to form judgments about other people on the basis of subtle clothing-related cues. So that little bit of extra pilling on my old sweater or the roughed and faded knee areas on these trousers I’m wearing might signal something about me to fellow humans that I would not want them to think.

And yet, given garment production’s environmental impact, it seems a terrible waste to get rid of functioning clothing just because of human psychological biases. The more I replace my clothes, the worse for the world. The clothing and textile industry is thought to be the second largest polluter after the oil industry. The fashion industry produces 20% of global waste water. It takes 10,000 liters of water to grow the cotton required to make a pair of jeans or a pair of trousers like the ones I am wearing now; that’s the same amount of water one person will drink in 10 years. That’s right: these trousers took the equivalent of 10 years of my drinking water! Americans throw away an average of 70 pounds of clothing per person annually. 85% of textiles end up in landfills or incinerators, and textiles occupy about 5% of landfill space.

Much of this textile and clothing waste could be recycled, but it is not always easy to recycle. For example, in my local council here in London, I would have to arrange a special textile collection separate from my usual recycling, and it requires a minimum of at least one bin liner’s worth of clothing for collection. The council also requires that the clothes be “good quality”, whatever that means, which seems to defeat the whole point of why I’d be trying to throw away or recycle clothes rather than donate them to a charity shop. There are also textile recycling banks where you can drop off old clothes around town, but they may not be convenient to reach, especially if you don’t have a car for lugging your stuff. All the effort required to recycle makes me think, if I want to be green, I ought to just keep wearing these trousers as long as I can!

So what to do when we want to look our best and prime ourselves for success but don’t want to feed the pollution beast? I still don’t have a real answer, but as with so many other things to help us live greener lives, we probably ought to think more about why we do the things we do and whether the things we do and think are really good for us, not just good for us for purposes of short-term success but for purposes of whole species survival. Maybe our cultural attitudes and norms about clothing don’t serve us well and need to change; just as we have become more accepting of more casual clothing as a signifier of a more relaxed and creative approach to work, maybe we can become more accepting of dressing that signifies a commitment to a greener planet by wearing clothes through the end of their useful life and not just until they look a bit faded. I’ve always considered it important to look my best and make a good impression, but maybe I need to reconsider my priorities. Maybe I should worry as much about my clothes’ impact on the environment as about what they make other people think.

For now, especially given I can’t buy any replacements this year, I’ll just keep wearing my faded Gap trousers as long as they still zip and cover my legs, and we’ll see how it goes.

For more information about fashion industry waste and our clothing’s impact on the environment:

https://unfccc.int/news/un-helps-fashion-industry-shift-to-low-carbon

http://worldwearproject.com/

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/2015/jan/14/10-things-learned-zero-waste-fashion-industry